Connections

by Glen Dresback, J.R. 23
On August 12, 1996, a package arrived at my house, hand carried to the door by the postman due to its size. It contained the first copy of the 23rd’s unit history to make its way to us! Finally, we have a record of the actual people in the 23rd in WWI, and of their deeds and accomplishments! In the midst of avid reading through the book, I received some definite surprises, and found some really surprising coincidences.

One of the first coincidences that struck me, involved one of our own (former) members, Mike Gonzales, whose long term of service as Hasso, Ritter von Hoffman, had recently ended. As Hauptmann von Hoffmann, Mike performed the increasingly difficult and decreasingly fun job of Central Powers combat commander at the GWA events, driving all the way to Virginia and Pennsylvania to jump from problem to problem all weekend, and should be commended for his hard work. But we all know that.

The surprise came in the opening pages of the unit history.

“On the 6th of August, (1914) at 12 noon, the regiment stood for the last time in an open square in the Wilhelmsplatz in Neiße, 3000 men, prepared to take the oath, to victory or death. Before the middle of the Regiment stood the new regimental commander, Oberstlt. (Lt. Col.) von Hofmann. Under the beating of the Prussian march...”

Von Hofmann? I had to stop and read that one again. Then, on the next page, there he was again, along with a list of all the other officers and higher NCO’s on the date of the marching out of the Regiment to the war.

Unfortunately, the original von Hofmann was to parallel the re-enacting von Hoffmann in another way: he didn’t survive the war. As a matter of fact, the original von Hofmann died August 31, 1914, in the first month of the war. As his last act, he appointed the next regimental commander, the commander of the II Bataillon at the beginning of the war; Oberstlt. Graf (count) von Keller.

Once again, a surprise! Graf von Keller was the regimental commander for some time, and survived the war, writing the introduction for the unit history. There is also a large photograph of him in the book, a man with an impressive mustache.

Neuville??

There are other odd coincidences. The Ehrentafel in the back carries a list of all the officers and men of the Regiment who died, and includes where they died. On the list of officers, a long series of entries caught my eye: the place where they were killed? Neuville, France, on either the 24th or 25th of September, 1915. One was the third lieutenant from the 3rd company killed in the war, Viktor Schwenzner. (No connection to anyone in the current unit, but it does give an idea of what the officer losses were for our unit- very high.) Neuville was apparently in Artois, the Champagne, in front of a major French offensive that was unsuccessful, but bloody. Neuville, is of course, the town where the Great War Association trench system is located.

The Divisional Chaplain

One item that is of note is that the Divisional Chaplain in 1913 was Lutheran, named Schmidt. This is of interesting chiefly due to an old and oft-repeated statement that the 12th Division had a Jewish chaplain. They may have, just not in 1913. It is very possible that there were Jewish clerics in the division: Oppeln, the home of the 63rd, and Breslau had substantial Jewish populations, the highest in the area by far. It is possible that one was the divisional chaplain later in the war.

<<<Chaplain Rabbi Aaron Tänzer

Change

Some other notes upon reading the text of the unit history include the fact that the unit had changed a great deal by the end of the war from what it had been at the beginning. The old regiment was different, supplemented by a force that now included 3 machine gun companies, minenwerfer detachments for each Bataillon, a Sturmzug, more medical people, and a Feld-Rekruten Depot for the 12th division, where our rekruits went for more useful training before coming up to the front, after going through training in Germany.

Traditions

The original unit also had some distinguishing marks. Every unit of the old German army had its own festival day, when they would have their banquets, parties, parades, and celebrations. It was their day, a unit holiday. The 23rd’s was July 1 of every year, a day when the Biergartens of Neisse were surely full. It was both a chance to celebrate past glories and pay tribute to the fallen. Monuments to fallen members of the unit were dedicated on that day.

A last note, the original guys were quite creative. One Major Kremski wrote a play about the unit’s history that was performed at the centennial in 1913, and many wrote songs about the unit and their accomplishments during the war. One, the „Dreiundzwanziger-lied“ was written about the campaign in Italy, and was good enough to be placed in an official song album. We have several of the songs, they thought enough of them to place them in the unit history.

I hope that everyone enjoys it!


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